Intimate Partner Violence: Wait, how many People Experience it?

Look at five women you know.  Which one of them has or will experience severe physical violence from an intimate partner in her lifetime?  Maybe the answer is you.

Look at seven men you know.  Which one of them has or will experience severe physical violence from an intimate partner in his lifetime?  Maybe the answer is you.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 5 adult women and 1 in 7 adult men report having experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime.  About 1 in 6 women and 1 in 12 men have experienced contact sexual violence from an intimate partner.  Almost half of women and men will experience psychological aggression from an intimate partner.  Overall, 32 million women and 12 million men are victims of intimate partner violence, or IPV, during their lives, with the highest rates, for women at least, between ages 18 and 34. Your first reaction to these statistics may be disbelief.  How is it possible that so many people experience physical, sexual, or psychological violence in their relationships when it seems so rare among the people I know?  Because of shame.  And fear.  And control.  And denial.  And silence.

To how many people do we tell our deepest secret?  How many times have we smiled while our heart is pounding, or our world is crashing, or our blood is boiling, or our throat is constricted from holding back tears?  Why do you hide this pain?  Maybe that is why we or people we love don’t talk about violence in intimate relationships, even when that violence can result in numerous health, reproductive, psychological, social, financial, and behavioral consequences.  Shame keeps many people quiet about the abuse they experience in close relationships.

  • “No one would believe me because …”
    • “…my partner is so kind to me in front of other people.”
    • “…my partner is so well known in the community as a good person.”
    • “…I am usually a strong person.”
    • “…no one believed me [or someone else] when I was younger.”
  • “My partner only does those things because …”
    • “…I made my partner angry.”
    • “…I did ______________.”
    • “…my partner was drinking/doing drugs.”
    • “…my partner is under a lot of stress.”
  • “I don’t want anyone to see me as…”
    • “…weak.”
    • “…stupid.”
    • “…overreacting.”
    • “…a victim.

Fear keeps other people from leaving the relationship or disclosing the violence.

  • “If I leave or tell anyone…”
    • “…my partner will find me and hurt me worse.”
    • “…I won’t be able to support myself [financially, emotionally, etc.].”
    • “…people will blame me for causing problems/breaking up a family.”
    • “…I will lose my children.”
    • “…I will never find another relationship.” Or “…the next person will be worse.”

Control keeps the cycle of violence going, and disempowers the person experiencing violence.  The power and control wheel (developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs, refers to the many controlling behaviors such as coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation, blaming, humiliation, and denial of access to resources which undermine the belief that one has the power to stop the abuse.  The cycle of violence refers to the presence of apologies and amends by the perpetrator in a sort of “honeymoon period” after violent acts that often reengages the partner experiencing IPV in the relationship.

How do you know if you or someone you know is caught in an abusive power dynamic?  Every relationship is different, but some signs of a controlling partner who may engage in intimate partner violence are when the person:

  • Insults, shames, or demeans you with put-downs
    • Tells you that you can never do anything right
  • Shows extreme jealousy or your friends, family, or time away from them
  • Controls who you see, where you go, or what you do; prevent you from making decisions
  • Controls your money without any input from you; does not let you use your money
  • Pressures you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things you are not comfortable with
  • Pressures you to use drugs or alcohol
  • Looks at you or acts in ways that scare you
  • Threatens you, your pets, people you know, or your property
  • Intimidates you with weapons

How do you empower someone caught in a cycle of intimate partner violence?  If you are concerned about a friend or family member, share your worries privately and in person (to prevent a partner from seeing texts/email/social media or overhearing phone call).  LISTEN to the person’s story without forcing your point of view.  Offer your support or resources as appropriate for the plan developed by them. If you are concerned about yourself, share your worries with someone you trust privately.  Keep trying until you find someone who is supportive! No one deserves to experience abuse.  Certainly not one in five women and one in seven men.

If you would like to talk about concerns related to any type of intimate partner violence toward you or someone you know, there are many safe spaces to explore this difficult issue.  The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) is available 24/7 for women and men, victims and perpetrators of intimate partner violence.  Their website  has a number of useful articles and resources as well, including detailed examples of abusive behavior and ways to help yourself or friends.  We are happy to meet with graduate, health professional, and medical students with concerns about intimate partner violence; contact  The Counseling Center is available for undergraduate students with IPV concerns at (910) 814-5709.

For further reading about Intimate Partner Violence, particularly for those in health-related fields:

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